As heavily foreshadowed, in “All-New X-Men” #11 by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen, one of the five, time-displaced original X-Men decides to join current-day Cyclops’ mutant revolution.
This central event and its aftermath occupy almost the entire issue. With his usual decompressed pacing, Bendis handles a large cast well, giving each character a turn in the spotlight. Immonen deserves even more praise for being able to draw a huge number of characters in panel after panel, without the action ever becoming confusing. While Immonen’s clean panel compositions and storytelling flow are excellent, his character design has some weaknesses. In particular, the women’s faces and bodies are distinguished mostly by hairstyles and costumes. Jean Grey, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde and even Storm all have wide set-apart eyes and diminutive, straight-edged noses.
Bendis’ fluid dialogue is easy on the ear, and tennis-like back-and-forth pacing of the interactions makes most of “All New X-Men” #11 fly by quickly and enjoyably. Bendis’ turns of phrase and his light humor are excellent as usual, but his dialogue also displays its usual weaknesses. The characters on each side feel almost interchangeable, because with few exceptions, Bendis fails to create a unique vocal rhythm for each character. However, in a story with so many players and a dynamic that boils down to a mutant-powered tug-of-war, this uniformity is almost an advantage.
The high point of Bendis’ plotting, in both characterization and psychological tension, is the reaction of the young Jean Grey to the news of the defection and then the White Queen’s immediate counter-reaction. Bendis’ handling of that old rivalry is one of the strongest parts of this tug-of-war. Cat-fights over a man are soap-opera-ish, but Bendis makes this scene is exceptional. Emma Frost shows no qualms about using a larger mission or the need for “teaching” as an excuse to mete out some personal pain-dealing. Likewise, she sees nothing remiss about transferring her dislike and jealousy of the adult, long-gone Jean to the younger, time-displaced teenage Jean. Despite these less than moral moves, she comes out the winner of the interaction in more than one way. It’s a great moment that sums a lot of the contradictions and attractions of the character of Emma Frost.
Unfortunately, this scene is followed by an amusing but otherwise forgettable plotting lead-up involving Mystique, and then a heavy-handed four-page heart-to-heart between Kitty and teenage Jean. This conversation is clearly meant to be touching and wise. Kitty even brings up Spider-Man’s motto. It comes off more as cliched and unnecessary. It’s a drawn-out, overly pat and obvious attempt to show that the former surrogate mother/child relationship between Kitty and Jean Grey has flipped, with Kitty now admonishing and comforting the adolescent Jean who has been “acting out.” From this, Bendis turns the plot back towards Wolverine, Beast and the remaining four original X-Men.
The last page of “All New X-Men” #11 promises another round of heated verbal and physical arguments between rival superteams. On one hand, I’m looking forward to this match-up, especially because Bendis excels in scenes where the original X-Men interact with modern-day mutants, but on the other hand, I’m starting to worry about the ratio of character mash-ups to actual plot developments for a title that has been out for half a year now. Bendis and Immonen’s “All New X-Men” remains a fun read for its energy and character interactions, but beyond its initial twist, the plotting hasn’t been as strong.